A comparison of John Steinbeck’s novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the 1939 film version of the novel Essay

Looking at the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck there is the clear comparison that this is a print text, while the 1939 film version of the novel by Milestone is a visual text. There are many things that need to be taken into consideration when analysing a visual text, these being the use of camera angle, sound, lighting, editing and the mise en sc�ne, whereas when looking at the print text the use of description, dialogue, characterisation and imagery.

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The three scenes which are most relevant to the novel and the film are, the shooting of Candy’s dog, the fight which takes place between Curley and Lennie and the scene which takes place in Crooks room. There is a clear difference between the scenes from the book and the scenes from the film; this is due to a number of reasons. The main one being that the novel has left the reader to make up their own mind about the characters in their own time but the film has a limited amount of time to do this, introducing the characters quickly and getting straight to the story.

Also, the book was written by Steinbeck but the film was not produced by him, therefore we are seeing two interpretations of the novel.

The first scene, which is a major focus of the film and the novel, is that of the shooting of Candy’s dog. This is dramatic and creates a high emotional response, both in the novel and the film. The film introduces the scene with a number of high angle shots with the focus on the dog. These high angle shots of the dog are featured with the dog close to Candy, showing that there is a connection between the two, which may be seen as more of a bond. The use of these shots are powerful but the book allows the reader to use their imagination, with the use of dialogue to express how much the dog means to Candy, this is just as powerful as the way it is presented in the film. Candy looks “helplessly” saying “it’s hurt him” after Carlson suggests shooting him because the “ol’ dog jus’ suffers hisself all the time”. This suggests, just as clearly as the film, that the dog is important to him and he doesn’t want to lose him. This is also suggested when Candy says that he “don’t mind takin’ care of him”.

Throughout the scene there is also the focus on the newspaper article as well as the main story of Candys dog. This is a good technique used to build up tension because the audience wants to know what’s going to happen to the dog. Throughout this scene in the film there is still a clear focus on Candy although the story of the newspaper article is going on around him. This causes an emotional build-up, along with the other characters that are placed in the camera shots who appear not to care about Candy. The emotional build-up is created in the novel with the description of Carlson who “continued to look down at the old dog” as Candy “watched him uneasily”, this builds up tension between the two characters even more so as the other characters present are unaware of this non-verbal communication until Carlson finally speaks.

Once the conversation is over between the two and Carlson finally convinces Candy to let him shoot the dog, a soundtrack is introduced, which is slow and sad, adding to emotions as a close-up camera angle focuses on Candy. The dog is then taken out of the door, which is filmed from above, with a high angle shot, which not only plays on the emotions of the audience but also makes the dog appear to be small and fragile. Along with the soundtrack this is a very powerful image especially as the next shot is that of Candy, who walks over to his bed. This is described in a lot more detail in the novel than it is in the film.

The description of the dog is just that he got up “slowly and stiffly to his feet and followed the gently pulling leash”. The text appears slow which increases the emotion between all the characters. This is increased in the film when the camera focuses on all the characters in the room individually, with no dialogue between the characters at all. The silence causes even more tension as they wait for the sound of the shot from the gun; the slow editing also causes a build-up. The added sound effect of the gun stuns the characters then they look sympathetically at Candy, as they do in the novel, where “a shot sounded in the distance” then every “head turns towards him (Candy)”. They both focus on it enough for it to be emotive, but the technique is to focus on the emotions on Candy.

The next scene is the fight scene between Curley and Lennie after Curley enters their bunk and fights with Lennie because “he doesn’t like big guys”. Tension is built up in the film with long shots of all the characters and a deep, slow soundtrack, giving the impression that something climactic is about to happen. The dark lighting also gives this impression, as Curley tries to gain power over the other characters. The fight comes, as Curley appears to accuse Slim of being with his wife. Slim impertinently tells Curley “Well now you know”, provoking Curley.

The characters are positioned in long shots so the audience can gain an idea of the relationship that Curley has with the other men. Even though Curley wants to be the more dominant figure, it is clear that Slim takes this role, so Curley loses the respect of the other characters and the audience. The respect is lost for Curley in the novel because of his attitude, he is desperate to have a fight and he “whirled” onto Carlson asking “You keep outa this les’ you wanna step outside”, and Carlsons reaction being “You God damn punk”. This use of speech is a very effective way of explaining the situation by using the other characters. This is a dramatic build up to the fight in both texts.

The fight soon begins when Lennie smiles at the situation intimidating Curley, who then starts to punch Lennie who is in no position to fight back because of the orders from George. During the film, the tension is built up with a dramatic soundtrack followed by fast editing from the fight to each of the characters to see their responses. Once the fight is in full stream, as in the novel, George yells “Get ‘im, Lennie!” which then leads Lennie to grab hold of Curley’s hand and crush it. There is then a long; close up on Curley’s hand with fast, high pitched music in the background. This is done to emphasis the fact that Curley has been injured to the audience. In the novel, Steinbeck uses a lot of imagery to describe the situation; this acts in the same way as the long close up shot of the hand. In the novel it is described as “flopping like a fish” which was “lost in Lennie’s big hand”.

The camera shot then switches so the camera is positioned near the door, as if it is looking through on the men, from somebody else’s point of view. This technique is often used throughout the film. His body language gives a clear indication that Lennie is frightened. This is powerfully described in the novel as “Lennie watched in terror”. Lennie’s body language is that of a frightened man and is emphasised by a close-up shot of his face, focusing on the fear in his eyes, also giving the impression that he is innocent even though he has just injured Curley.

Also, the dark lighting brings the connotation that something terrible has just happened. That something more terrible is yet to happen, and the props emphasise the drama of the incident and the outcome. This scene is described in the book as also being a terrible incident, focusing both on the descriptions of George and Lennie, where “blood ran down Lennie’s face, one of his eyes was cut and closed” and Curley was “white and shrunken”. These two descriptions are very different from each other, representing Lennie as the powerful figure, whereas before he was not.

The next important scene is that of Crooks’ room, a main focus because this is where the dreams of the future on the ranch are talked about. Also, Crooks is the character that is discriminated against. Focusing on this in the novel and the film, is highly unusual for the time of the novel and the film. Which were both produced in the early part of the twentieth century, when showing whites and blacks together was unusual. Milestone opens the first scene with a high angle close up shot of Crooks rubbing a “bottle of liniment” onto his back. This emphasises the fact that Crooks is old and disabled due to injury to his back. This is featured in the book by the repetition of Crooks touching his spine every now and then.

The description is a major focus within the novel and is created in the film with the use of props but there is not nearly as much involvement of the room in the film. This is because it was important to emphasis the difference in the conditions between the men to highlight the discrimination of the time. The discrimination is seen through Crooks’ isolation because the props used in the dark, mysterious setting of his room, which seems to be significantly neater than the other bunkhouses, which have been seen in the film. Yet this is not a major focus in the film unlike in the novel where there is a lot of description about the “harness-room” and the description of Crooks’ bunk which is a “long box filled with straw, on, which his blankets were flung”.

The next shot the film is that of Lennie, which is a low mid shot of him entering the room through the door. Due to the angle of the camera, Lennie appears especially large, this is due to the difference in camera angle, which creates a feeling of height variation and gives the scene a sense of realism. This makes the audience feel as though they are positioned like the camera, between the two characters Crooks and Lennie, and are adjusting their eye line. The different height levels also give the feeling that Lennie is the more dominant figure in their relationship. This is in comparison to Steinbeck because he writes as though there is less pressure between the two, as if Lennie is trying to make an effort, which is not expressed in the film.

This is shown in the book when Lennie “appeared in the doorway and stood there looking in” and he “smiled helplessly in a attempt to make friends”. The language used does not make Lennie appear the more dominant figure in the novel, in the way he appears in the film. As the two characters begin to make conversation, there is a strong use of mid shots and close-ups to make it appear more tense, this then gives the audience a sense that something bad is going to happen even though it doesn’t. In the novel the language is intense, which is shown in the film with the use of slow editing and no soundtrack.

The language used in the conversation makes it very dramatic, with Crooks making it clear that Lennie is unwelcome, emphasising the fact that “Nobody got any right to in here but me”. As there is no introduction to the room as there is in the book, the scene is set with the use of high angle shots. This helps the audience to understand place and time, with the use of the dark lighting to help. The cameras then focus on the two characters, moving sharply between them to make the conversation appear tenser. But this tension is brought together in the novel with just the use of the dialogue.

The next important part of this scene is Candy entering and the focus being on Lennie and Geroge’s dream of the ranch. Throughout this scene, there is again, the use of mid-shots and close-ups of all three men. This is used to show the importance of the dream within the story and the importance of it to the men as part of their lives. This is also the crucial part of the story when the dream appears to be able to come true, and there is hope for the men at last, especially Crooks who has been isolated from the other men for most of his life because he is a “Negro”.

This is shown in the book with the use of Lennie’s language, which makes the dream appear more exciting because he makes it sound real, “It ain’t no lie. We’re gonna do it”. Milestones makes this more with the use of lighting, which is excitingly bright, and creates emotion. Steinbeck, at the end of the extract touches on the dream of Lennie, George, Candy and later, Crooks. Crooks asked what Candy is “Figuring about” and “Lennie almost shouted”, “Bout the rabbits.” This shows Lennie expects Crooks to know about their dream of buying their own land and to “Live on the fatta the lan'” because the dream is so close to being achieved.

The talk of the dream soon creates a better atmosphere, which soon enables the three men to become friends. This is shown with the use of soft lighting, to create a friendly atmosphere. Soon Curley’s wife enters after having a fight with Curley. Curley kicks her out of the house and she goes to Crooks’ room looking for sympathy from the other men. As soon as she enters in the film, she is portrayed as being the sexy, flirtatious woman of the ranch. This is described in the novel, “She stood in the doorway, smiling a little at them, rubbing the nails of one hand with the thumb and forefinger of the other” with her “face heavily made up. Her lips were slightly parted.

She breathed strongly, as though she had been running”. It is clear that Curley’s wife is portrayed to be much more of a sexual creature in the book than she is in the film, even though the use of lighting, which was soft in the film, does make her appear slightly attractive. This is very dramatic within the film and the novel, because it is here that Curley’s wife finds out that Lennie crushed Curley’s hand instead of the machine. In the novel there is a slight sense of humour added, shown when “Curley’s wife laughed. ‘OK, Machine. I’ll talk to you later. I like machines'”. This does not appear in the film, and Curley’s wife’s entrance does not seem as important as it appears within the novel. This is a major contrast as the film leaves out the important emotions expressed within the novel.

Soon George enters, and as in the novel he stands “framed in the door”, as Lennie did at the beginning, showing that there is a relationship between the two. George then “looked disapprovingly”. Tension is caused within the dialogue because Lennie was told to keep away from Crooks and out of his room. The lack of equality is shown between the two, as George appears to stand over Crooks, emphasising the problems that have occurred for Crooks all alone because of his colour. Even though this is quite an important part within the story, as George is upset with Lennie for telling the others about the dream, it is not really described or shown in detail in neither of the texts. This is shown with the use of long camera shots and slow editing, this comes as a surprise, especially as it appears at the end of the scene.

Other than some alterations, the two scenes from both the texts they appear to very similar, only with the book adding more detail. This detail is only left out because it is there in front of the audience with the use of props. The detail of Crooks’ room is not a major focus within the film, unlike it is in the novel where Steinbeck uses simplistic style and language which allows the reader to understand the significant themes of the story. Also the literary techniques that he uses consists of monosyllabic words, which helps to set the scene of Crook’s room along with the use of cinematic effects. This helps his descriptive writing and allows us to feel as if we are in the harness room with Crooks and Lennie. This helps to portray the realism of the story, something that the film is not able to do.

In conclusion I prefer Steinbeck’s novel to the film by Milestone, mainly because the novel allows the reader to make up their own mind about the characters and the setting of the novel with the use of the imagination. The way that Steinbeck combines detailed descriptions of the scenery with the more vague descriptions of the characters to draw the reader into the novel and stimulate their imaginations is very effective, this does much more for the audience than the film. Steinbeck leaves more to the imagination of the reader than Milestone’s film version. This is more rewarding because the reader has developed sympathy for George and Lennie through their own imagination and not because they have been influenced by their appearances on the film. Milestone’s opinions on the characters are apparent in the film because it is his own interpretation of the novel. However by reading the novel, each individual is able to make up their own interpretation of the novel.

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